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Vantage Travel is bankrupt. Here’s what customers need to know

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

Vantage Deluxe World Travel finally pulled the plug on itself and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on June 29. This move was no surprise to anyone following the troubling situation at the once well-respected tour operator. 

What did come as a surprise was the true debt the company amassed before increasing negative publicity about its operations forced it to shut down. The legal team of Vantage Travel revealed that shocking figure in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proposal.

All told, Vantage Travel owes customers, vendors, contractors, and other creditors over 170 million dollars.

The value of the assets of the company is a mere fraction of that number. 

Vantage Travel’s legal team says the company’s primary asset is its customer database, which it’s hoping to sell. But that list contains disgruntled and distraught would-be travelers, to whom Vantage collectively owes nearly 110 million dollars. 

With figures like those in the bankruptcy proposal, it’s hard to imagine the customer list of Vantage Travel holds any value. But apparently it does.  

In the follow-up bankruptcy hearing on July 5, which I attended via Zoom, not one but two companies stepped forward in the courtroom to express a desire to buy the remnants of Vantage Deluxe World Travel for one million dollars.

Today, thousands of Vantage Travel customers want to know what all this means. They’ve been waiting for months and, in many cases, years for promised refunds. Those refunds, if the bankruptcy court approves the current proposal, will likely never materialize.

If you’re one of those thousands of Vantage Travel customers, here’s what you need to know. 

What should Vantage Travel customers do right now?

According to court records, the database Vantage intends to sell to United Travel Pte. Ltd includes customers’ credit card information and passport numbers, among other personal details.

Update: During the sale auction held on Aug. 7 and 8, 2023, Pacific Travel Partners, a subsidiary of Aurora Expeditions, won the bidding. On Aug. 14, 2023, Judge Janet Bostwick in U.S. Bankruptcy Court approved the sale.

This proposal doesn’t sit well with thousands of Vantage Travel customers who already consider themselves victims of the company. They view the sale of their private data to the highest bidder as yet another betrayal by the tour operator to whom they gave their loyal business.

  • Update: On July 20, 2023, the Consumer Privacy Ombudsman (John Loughnane) appointed by the the U.S. Trustee published his first report on the Vantage Travel bankruptcy case. In this document, he explained that in response to the ongoing complaints about the company’s intention to include personal credit card and passport details in the customer list, Vantage has adjusted those plans. The legal team of Vantage now says that those details will not be transferred to the buyer and the encrypted data will be destroyed before the sale is concluded.

There are a number of things Vantage Travel customers can do now to make sure the bankruptcy court hears their opinions.

1. File Form 410 (Notice of Claim)

Vantage Travel customers owed a refund or have a future trip scheduled should file an official proof of claim. Here’s how to do that:

  • Fill out Form 410 Proof of Claim.
  • Print out the the form.
  • Mail it to the following address: Vantage Travel Service, Inc. Claims Processing
    c/o Stretto
    410 Exchange, Suite 100
    Irvine, CA 92602

Update: The deadline to file a form 410 Notice of Claim is Dec. 1, 2023. A number of customers have asked me if they need to file the 410 in the bankruptcy court if they’ve already received their notification of future credits with Pacific Travel. The answer is “Yes.” No one knows what the future will bring and should any funds be made available to the unsecured creditors down the road, you’ll want to be on the official list for a cash distribution. So if Vantage Deluxe World Travel owes you a refund, make sure you put yourself on that list.

2. Contact the U.S. Trustee’s office

The U.S. Trustee Program at the Department of Justice is the bankruptcy proceeding’s watchdog.

These are the key team members (and their contact information) working on the Vantage Travel bankruptcy case:

The U.S. Trustee’s team is inviting Vantage customers to submit their questions and concerns to Jason Longton.

Consumers who wish to become part of the unsecured creditors’ committee should send a message to Longton indicating that intention. Those customers will receive a request for more detailed information from the Department of Justice.

Note: The Section 341 meeting of unsecured creditors is scheduled for Aug. 1 at 1:30 p.m. Customers can attend that meeting remotely.

3. Subscribe to receive Vantage bankruptcy updates

Things are happening unusually fast in this bankruptcy case. In the hearing on July 5, the lawyers for Vantage and the potential buyer mentioned the “Need for speed” here. They argued Vantage Travel’s value plummets further each time a new unfavorable article appears in the media.

To keep up with the rapidly evolving case, customers can subscribe to the Vantage bankruptcy updates on Stretto. Stretto publishes all the official documents and transcripts.

4. Attend the hearings in person

The Vantage bankruptcy proceedings are public. That means anyone can attend the hearings at the United States Bankruptcy Court in Boston. Keep your eye on updates in Stretto to find out when the next hearing will be.

5. Attend the hearings via Zoom

As most of the unsecured creditors (customers) are not located in Massachusetts, the court has agreed to a remote broadcast. To participate, you’ll need to create a free Zoom account. Interested consumers can email the court deputy prior to each hearing and request a link to join.

*Note: Make sure to turn off your video camera and microphone if you intend to participate via Zoom. Otherwise, the court and everyone else can see and hear you — even if you aren’t aware of it!

Only turn on your camera and microphone if Judge Bostwick asks for comments and you wish to speak. During the first hearing, she did ask Zoom participants if they had questions.

6. Join our Vantage Travel Customer Support Facebook group (not affiliated with Vantage Travel)

So far, no court has required Vantage to alert its entire customer list of the bankruptcy filing. As a result, many customers who aren’t on the internet have remained in the dark about the situation. I continue to receive emails and phone calls from surprised Vantage customers who come across one of my articles and only just now are hearing the bad news about the company.

To combat this lack of transparency, we established a private Facebook group. We dedicated this space to providing reliable information, guidance, and friendly emotional support to everyone troubled by the Vantage bankruptcy. Our group has become known as a trusted source of factual information that Vantage doesn’t necessarily want to be publicized.

This private group includes thousands of Vantage customers, employees, vendors, and suppliers. Additionally, you’ll find notable journalists, TV newspeople, public relations executives, and of course, consumer advocates.

Will Vantage Travel customers receive refunds?

When cruise lines or tour operators go bankrupt, it often hits the consumers the hardest.

The harsh reality is that it is unlikely that Vantage Travel customers will get their money back. Certainly, it will not happen as a result of the bankruptcy proceedings. 

Vantage Travel is over 170 million dollars in debt with no real assets. Secured creditors and the lawyers involved in bankruptcy proceedings stand at the front of the payout line if there are any proceeds at the conclusion of the case. Unsecured creditors (customers) always get the short end of the stick when a company goes belly-up holding their funds (See: How to get a refund if your cruise line goes bankrupt). 

But there is one exception to this rule in the Vantage case.

What about trips booked just before Vantage Travel declared bankruptcy?*

Customers who purchased new tours on May 12, 2023, or later will likely receive all their money back. Here’s why: (Please see update below)

Even after it was clear that Vantage was heading to bankruptcy court and had no chance of operating future trips, it continued to market and sell phantom tours to customers who hadn’t yet heard about the company’s dire situation. 

The sales team at Vantage Travel was one of the last departments to be let go. Right up until June 20 (the day they were all fired), these employees, who received commissions based on their sales, continued to cheerfully hype future tours to unaware, mostly elderly customers who were willing to pay with a bank transfer. 

The good news for these customers is that Vantage put all of that group’s cash in a separate account. According to the bankruptcy proposal, there are 2.1 million dollars in a separate account that represents all sales from May 12, 2023. 

If the court approves the sale of Vantage Travel, that money will transfer to the new company. If the new owner is unable to operate the tours as scheduled for those customers, they will be eligible for a cash refund.

*Update*: Because of multiple objections to this part of the sale agreement, it was removed from the final document that was approved on Aug. 14, 2023. The 2.1 million dollars will now remain as part of the bankruptcy estate of Vantage Travel, and customers who purchased new trips after May 11, 2023, will not receive special treatment. They will file a Form 410 as the rest of the Vantage customers.

What about the 1.2 million dollars the Attorney General retrieved?

Last month, in response to growing inquiries from media outlets in Boston, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office released a memo announcing it had retrieved 1.2 million dollars from Vantage for customers. 

Unfortunately, that statement set off a new wave of confusion among Vantage customers, who assumed that now there was a pile of money to share for those in line for a refund.

The truth is that the Massachusetts Attorney General has received nearly 1,200 complaints from Vantage customers since 2020. The 1.2 million dollars cited in the press release is the total amount the office has negotiated in refunds for Vantage customers during the entire three years. Vantage did not send money to the Attorney General, and no cash is waiting for disbursement.

If you consider that Vantage Travel sold luxury tours that on average cost around $15,000, it’s not hard to figure out that the vast majority of customers who contacted the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (or any other advocate) have not received a refund.

Will the new owner honor our Vantage Travel trip or refund?

If you are a Vantage customer and have a future trip scheduled, you can assume it’s canceled. Your contract is with Vantage Deluxe World Travel, and at the end of the bankruptcy proceedings, that company will no longer exist.

In the bankruptcy filing, there are no provisions for cash refunds for customers.

If the bankruptcy proposal proceeds as is, customers who are owed refunds will only receive a small future trip credit from the new company. The value of the credit will be equal to 20 percent of the refund that Vantage Travel owed to the customer.

*August Update: Pacific Travel Partners, a subsidiary of Aurora Expeditions, became the winning bidder for the remnants of Vantage Travel. Under the sale agreement, Vantage customers who are owed refunds will receive future travel credits equal to 100% of the value of what was owed to them at the time of the bankruptcy (with limitations). This is a much better outcome compared to what the customers would receive had the competing company United Travel won the bankruptcy auction.

Can I file a credit card dispute against Vantage?

The Fair Credit Billing Act protects credit card-using consumers from merchants who do not provide the purchased goods or services as described. It also protects consumers against fraud. 

Customers who paid for their Vantage Travel tour with a credit card should contact their credit card company to ask about filing a chargeback based on services not received as promised. 

If your credit card company accepts your dispute, you will receive a temporary credit, and Vantage will have 30 days to respond to the chargeback. At the end of those 30 days, if Vantage has not responded, the temporary credit will become permanent. 

Note: If you made your payment many months or even years ago, you may need to remind your credit card company that the deadline for filing a dispute is based on the expected date of service, not the date you first made a payment. If the front-line customer service agent doesn’t accept your request, ask to speak to a supervisor who will likely be more familiar with the Fair Credit Billing Act.

Strange update: There’s been a strange turn of events for customers who have filed valid credit card disputes against Vantage Deluxe World Travel. Who is contesting those credit card chargebacks?

Could my bank reverse the payment I made to Vantage?

Unfortunately, most Vantage customers did not use a credit card to pay for their trip. Instead, they were enticed by the small discount Vantage offered when a customer would pay with an instant bank transfer.

In general, bank transfers are not reversible – especially ones that were authorized by the consumer. However, that should not prevent you from asking your bank about this possibility.

In some cases, if the bank transfer has been initiated in the last 30-60 days, your bank may decide to pursue the reversal with the receiving bank. 

Will the Travel Protection sold by Vantage help?

The Vantage Travel Protection is of no use to its customers now that the company has ceased to operate and is bankrupt. 

The product was highly problematic because Vantage was self-insuring Part A of that policy (pre-departure cancellations) – with no underwriter.

And Vantage ran out of money… a long time ago. 

Today, Vantage owes around 5 million dollars to customers who have approved claims via its “travel protection” that, in the end, provided no protection at all to those travelers.

What about that Allianz policy?

Travel insurance can be confusing to consumers. There is no doubt about it. For that reason, the industry offers a 10-14 day (depending on the company) look-over period during which travel insurance purchasers can carefully review the entire policy. After that time, the policy becomes nonrefundable and legally binding.

The travel insurance industry is highly regulated and so consumers can be confident that an insurance company will provide all the protection described in their policy. The opposite is also true. By thoroughly reading the document during the look-over period, travelers can be certain of what is and isn’t covered by the travel insurance policy.

Unfortunately, many travelers do not read those travel insurance policies.

As a consumer advocate, that fact has never been more clear to me than in the past three months. During that time, my email box and message center have been flooded with questions and misunderstandings about the responsibility Allianz and TripMate have to Vantage customers.

The Vantage Deluxe World Travel Protection Plan came with a 10-day look-over period. But the mass confusion about this policy proves that most customers didn’t read the document — until now.

In the Vantage case, Allianz and TripMate were only providing post-departure travel insurance. That means that all customers who bought that policy from Vantage had full post-departure medical coverage, trip interruption and delay protection, evacuation benefits, lost luggage coverage and more. It was a valuable, comprehensive travel insurance product that many Vantage customers who completed their trips utilized.

Of course, that part of the policy had no value if Vantage didn’t actually operate the tour. 

Will travel insurance ever pay when a tour company cancels?

Desperate Vantage customers are looking for any alternative way to recoup the money that Vantage owes to them. I’ve received a plethora of requests from customers asking me to ask TripMate and Allianz to provide the refunds that Vantage owes them.

These requests indicate a basic misunderstanding of the Vantage Travel Protection Plan at its core: it only pertains to customer-initiated cancellations. Neither part of that plan provides any coverage for a cancellation initiated by Vantage.

Fact: When a tour operator cancels a customer’s trip, it owes the refund — not the travel insurance company. The only exception to this rule, is if the tour operator goes bankrupt AND the customer purchased a comprehensive travel insurance policy that includes an insolvency clause.

For a more detailed explanation of the difference between a travel protection product and a true travel insurance policy, you can read Consumer Rescue’s guide on the topic.

Will the new company give Vantage customers a free trip as a gesture of goodwill?

No. This is a suggestion that lands in my email box over and over again. The new company is a for-profit company. They wish to buy the customer data so that they can market to the list and sell new trips. None of the companies vying to buy that list are offering to absorb the enormous debt that Vantage has accrued.

The bottom line: A 110 million dollar goodwill gesture isn’t going to happen.

I’m sorry I don’t have better news to report for Vantage customers. I will continue to update our readers via Facebook, in the Consumer Rescue newsletter and in our Facebook group. Stay tuned…

*Update 8/20/23: Vantage Travel is sold. Here’s what that means to customers

Update 11/27/23: The deadline to submit a notice of claim (410) to the bankruptcy court is Dec. 1, 2023. Make sure to file electronically via Stretto before that date if you were owed a refund at the time Vantage Travel filed for bankruptcy.

Update: 12/1/23: The deadline to file a notice of claim has passed but if you are a Vantage Travel customer who is owed a refund from the bankrupt company, you should contact the new company Vantage Explorations. You may be able to receive future travel credits with VE. Here’s how to contact their team: [email protected] (Note: Only one E in the middle of that email address.)

Related: Good news: Here’s how Consumer Rescue helped return nearly $100,000 to Vantage Travel bankruptcy victims as we ended 2023.

Update: 1/21/24: Why are so many former customers of Vantage Travel opting out of their credits with the new company? Is there any way to reverse what looks like bankruptcy claimant confusion? (Michelle Couch-Friedman, reporting for Consumer Rescue)

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.